Saturday, January 01, 2011

I'm Just One Man

Even before a child has spent a second in our classroom, their parents have heard me at least twice warn them, "We do not push letters or numbers at Woodland Park." In fact, I usually emphatically say that I will not intentionally bring letters or numbers into the classroom unless the children themselves compel me to it.

Of course, my point is that we make no overt efforts to teach them to read, or even identify their letters or numbers for that matter, we'll let their kindergarten teachers deal with that, but it's an impossible promise to keep. For one thing, most of the 2-year-olds come in already knowing that ubiquitous A-B-C song and they obsessively count everything, so there's that.

But making it even more difficult to keep my word is our school's commitment to reusing and recycling. Those darn things all have letters and numbers on them and the kids are forever pointing them out, saying things like, "That's my letter! G!" or "That's the number 2!" Arg! What do I look like, your kindergarten teacher?

If you look carefully, and children do, you'll see letters and numbers everywhere. The kids even ask me sometimes what the words mean as if they're somehow driven to figure out the strange symbolic codes of their fellow human beings.

Naturally, I blame society for its obsession with labeling everything, printing Diet Coke . . . or Miracle-Gro . . . 

. . . or Brown Cow . . . 

. . . or whatever on our upcycled "toys."

Heck, the parents even label their kids with words and numbers.

I suppose I could deal with it if the world would limit itself to these external labels, but really, shouldn't the insides of machines be safe havens? You might have to look closely, but they've managed to sneak a 4-9-5 in there, thinking the kids wouldn't notice. Shame on them!

You would think that gardens, at least, would be a place to escape these words and numbers, but no.

They even sneak words onto the garden spades!

I often come across articles about how to make a preschool classroom into a "literacy rich environment." Where are the articles about how to banish literacy? That's what I'd like to know. Every time I turn around, there they are, letters and numbers and words all chock-a-block with meaning.

And kids interacting with them, fiddling around, unlocking their secret abstract meanings in the course of their play.

I want to do it the pedagogically correct way as a preschool teacher, leaving these things out of the classroom until the kids are developmentally ready for them, but it's too many and too much for me. The minimum they could do is avoid putting letters and numbers on things that children find exciting or interesting.

Believe me, the undersides of these vintage Matchbox cars are riddled with
vital information about their makes and models that kids 
are always trying to decipher -- truly aggravating!

Yeah sure, sometimes we need to use a few letters for things like documenting our classroom rules . . .

. . . or recording thoughts for posterity . . .

And, yes, newspaper with all its thousands of tiny words and numbers really is the best, least expensive paper mache material.

And the burlap from discarded coffee bags is useful in all kinds of contexts.

All of these things, naturally, kind of throw letters and numbers into the faces of the kids, but I'm hoping these types of utilitarian accidents of literacy education are more than compensated for by my rigorous efforts on other fronts, although I despair.

They hide and turn themselves upside down.

They manage to inject themselves onto those fragile brains from every angle and during every moment of the day. Printed, typeset, handwritten, uppercase, lowercase, they're all there all the time.

I do my best to make our school a letter and number-free zone, but I'm just one man.

Why can't they just stay in books where they belong?

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Matt Gomez said...

What are your thoughts on this list? As a K teacher I would like to see #1,#4, and #5.....What Every Kindergartner Needs to Know:  via @maggiecary

Love your blog and what you are doing to promote learning through play.


Saya said...

I have to agree with you, Tom, I try to tell parents, peers, friends, everyone, it's IMPOSSIBLE to not to have literacy (and everything else for that matter) if you tried!

Michaele Sommerville said...

You crack me up.

That's the best comment I have since I am still on winter break and have put my kindergarten teacher brain in Time Out for the remainder.

So glad you're YOU! Happy New Year!


Ami said...

Ever tried to stop a child from learning?

Play for Life said...

Well Tom clearly you've failed!!! Darn kids wanting to learn all the time ... I think our friend Scott would be extremely proud of you! :) I hope you have a great 2011 Tom. If this post is anything to go by it's going to be a ripper!!!
Donna :) :)

MOM #1 said...

Sounds like my almost 3 year old granddaughter. She wants to learn EVERYTHING so badly! I'm trying to pace her, her Mom has no problem not teaching her anything, LOL!

Unknown said...

Awesome post! I just found your blog, and I am soo glad I did! Keep up the good work, very inspirational!!! Thank you for sharing.

Morgan said...

I love this. I wish I could work with you. I wish all my students had gone to your preschool. :)

Leslie Sausage said...

LOL! What a fun post! We don't have as fun in our classroom as you do, but I'm TRYING to have as much fun as I can get away with!


Christie - Childhood 101 said...

No, you are THE man :)

Kat said...


Sonni said...

I love this!!! What a man!!!

jenny said...

My absolute favorite post for the year ;)

Mariah said...

What a great post! So well said :-)